By Laurie Winslow
Copyright © 2013, Tulsa World
CleanNG LLC, whose invention could revolutionize compressed natural gas vehicles, raced ahead of the competition to cross the finish line as the $30,000 grand-prize winner of the Tulsa Community College StartUp Cup.
“It’s really exciting for us, and I think this is the cash we need to get over the hump and to start generating sales and getting this business up and going,” said Michael Tate, co-founder and chief operations and communications officer with CleanNG.
Friends, family, entrepreneurs and other business leaders gathered downtown Tuesday evening for the awards ceremony at the TCC Center for Creativity.
The annual competition, which kicked off in April, awards local entrepreneurs who develop the best business models. Entrants go through a seven-month process that includes making their case to a panel of judges and receiving mentoring.
Earlier this month, the six finalists gave one last pitch to the judges, hoping to convince them that their business models deserved a cash prize.
CleanNG plans to use the money to send its founders to a large trade show next year.
CEO Matt Villarreal acknowledged that he had been optimistic about the contest.
“I thought we had a good chance, but you never know,” he said.
The founders of CleanNG, who also include Aaron Laney, have said their company could have about 30 employees within five years and revenues of close to $70 million.
“They won because we believe that they have the best ability out of all the competitors to grow the most jobs in Tulsa,” said Elizabeth Frame Ellison, executive director of the Lobeck Taylor Family Foundation, which supports the competition. “They are pretty incredible. The product they’ve developed is something like no one else is making and has so many applications.”
The U.S. Department of Transportation approved CleanNG’s product in August. It already has generated initial sales through a pilot program and has lined up NASA and Yetispace as customers.
Villarreal and Tate came up with the idea for the product while they were students at Oklahoma State University and involved with race cars through Formula SAE, a student design competition.
They converted one of the first vehicles of its class to compressed natural gas. In the process of doing that, however, they discovered that CNG tanks can be bulky, costly and don’t hold enough fuel.
Villarreal had an idea for developing a new style of tank that uses a liner-less technology to increase the capacity while reducing its weight.
The company’s MagnumCel fuel storage system is the most advanced all-composite, CNG cylinder available, according to the company’s website. The system offers users more than 70 percent weight savings compared to type 1 CNG tanks, and 40 percent weight savings compared to type 3 tanks, while storing greater amounts of fuel, the website says.
CleanNG’s fuel storage system also can store a variety of other gases, including helium, hydrogen and oxygen.
The $5,000 second-place winners were Adam Teague and Tim Paslay of Two Guys Bow Ties for their startup that makes unique men’s clothing accessories, including hand-crafted wooden bow ties made from a variety of exotic hardwoods. During the competition, the company launched a product called wooden lapel flowers, and the team is developing additional products.
Andrew Jenkins and Clint Donaldson of IcyBreeze LLC won the $2,500 third prize for their modern multiuse portable cooler and air conditioner that keeps beverages and people cool.
The cooler, which has a rechargeable battery in the lid, can be used for camping or on the sidelines of sporting events in the summer heat. It’s all green and has no Freon, the company says. The cold air is created by using the ice water inside the cooler.
The $2,000 Spirit of Innovation Award went to Corey Carolina, founder of Carolina Food Co., which makes Toasted Wine Fruit Spreads. The product is made with natural ingredients including fruit and wine in a process in which the alcohol is cooked out of the wine, leaving the flavor.
The Spirit of Innovation Award is given to a competitor who best exemplifies the spirit of an entrepreneur through innovation, the ability to adapt, passion and grit.
Ellison said what she enjoyed most about the competition was seeing people who are passionate about pursuing their dreams. It’s always tough selecting the winners, she said, especially with this year’s six finalists.
“If we could make them all winners, we would,” Ellison said.
TCC StartUp Cup winners and finalists
First place: CleanNG LLC: Inventor and manufacturer of the MagnumCel, a fuel storage system for natural gas vehicles that can also store helium, hydrogen and oxygen ( gocleanng.com).
Second place: Two Guys Bow Ties: Maker of unique men’s clothing accessories, including a wooden bow tie available in a variety of exotic hardwoods ( woodenbowties.com).
Third place: IcyBreeze LLC: Portable cooler and air conditioner that can be used to keep beverages and people chilled (icybreeze.com).
Spirit of Innovation Award: Carolina Food Co. LLC: Maker of Toasted Wine Fruit Spreads ( toastedwinespreads.com).
Bright Tot: A subscription service that sends boxes of developmentally appropriate activities to families monthly ( brighttot.com).
Smart Panel: A home energy-management product that can monitor consumption and control circuits (smart-panel.net).
Laurie Winslow 918-581-8466